Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Lost in obfuscation

It won't take long for one of my readers to learn that I am a how-to writer. I am interested in my readers being able to do what I have learned through my own experience. How-to writers need to write without obfuscation. We write direct. We write in short sentences often stripped of unnecessary verbage. Why deprive the reader of what will soon be discovered for him or her self? Our task as how-to writers is to lead our readers to personal discovery and empowerment, and if we aren't very clear in what we say, our readers will be very disappointed. Besides, the truth of our presentations can be tested in our reader's own hands, so lies, inexperience and lack of clarity will come back to haunt.

I've had a short burst of rejects lately from agents and publishers, wishing me luck, but seeing no large market for the Wisdom of the Hands book. I have also been reading a variety of other books and noticing the difference between how-to writing and the kind of academic speak that gives the impression of the author's intelligence, by making the reader work so hard at getting the author's point.

So far, two agents have commented on my writing style. It is direct, clear, to the point, and not at all what they are used to. They don't know how to change it or improve it, and have no comparables through which to evaluate whether or not it will sell. Oh, the challenges of the how-to writer! A curse! Where is the joy of obfuscation in what we present?

I have always been good at reading comprehension. I can understand things as presented, and I know that what is clearly known can be made clear to others. When I have to work hard at my reading to understand the author's point, I am left wondering, first whether he or she knows the subject and is speaking from conjecture or experience. Then I question whether my own time would be better spent actually doing something myself. When effort is spent making something, there are tangible results from the expense of energy, and in comparing apples and oranges, I'll pick the more nutritious fruit.

At some point, however, I am confident that some major publisher will realize that books are not merely for entertainment, but for changing lives.


  1. Anonymous7:30 PM

    Don't get discouraged. You have a very true and clear message that will find its way to the wider world as all truth does eventually. One day I will buy your book from my local bookstore. (5000 miles from your beautiful country of America)

  2. I agree with Anonymous. I am also a how-to writer on my blog as well as having degrees in psychology and engineering. Being clear and concise is not terribly easy given our current educational system, so people don't know how to handle it. When I went to high school in the mid-60s I remember spending several weeks in English class learning to write the how-to style as well as several other styles.

    In any case, I believe there is a publisher out there who will believe in your book just as much as you do. You just haven't found it yet.